The lengths I go to, dear reader, to keep you in pretty pictures are nothing short of extraordinary. See this picture? See the those tulips? Nearly cost me 400 pounds.
I suppose I asked for it. There I was, merrily snapping away in one of the city parks yesterday evening, when a thick-set man came and stood solidly behind me. He coughed.
‘You’re on the grass,’ he said.
‘Am I?’ I asked, looking up and then around me. ‘Oh dear, I’d better get off then.’
I’ll admit I feigned ignorance about not being allowed on the grass because in actual fact I was standing right next to a sign instructing one to remove one’s person from said lawn, and you would have to be blind not to see it. Not even pretending to be Afrikaans-speaking would have worked because a) my Afrikaans is dreadful and b) Keep off the Grass looks the same in almost every language that cares about these things, and Afrikaans, you have to admit, has in the past been pretty good at telling people where they can and cannot stand.
Nope, I’d just chosen to ignore the sign, which isn’t fair or proper considering council gardeners work awfully hard at patching up gardens after dozens of people like me have traipsed through them. So perhaps what came next was karmic justice.
I’d snapped and snapped, even lain on a tarmac path with my head just on the lawn to take a picture of some forget-me-nots, when another thick-set man alerted me to the approaching closing time.
As I folded up my tripod and packed away my camera, he looked at me for a bit, took a breath and said, ‘Do you have a permit for this?’
Oh, the power these men wield. Of course I didn’t have a permit. A permit to take pictures of flowers in a park through which all and sundry pass every minute of every working day?
‘No,’ I said, looking at my shoes, which was about the point to which my heart had sunk.
‘There’s a fine of 400 pounds for that, you know, taking pictures without a permit. It’s more with a tripod. And are you a professional?’
‘No,’ I half lied, suddenly awfully glad I don’t have ads on this blog and that I earn more money off writing than photographs.
‘Oh. It’s more if you’re a professional.’
Sighing, and swallowing a small, anxious lump that had rather inconveniently materialised in my throat, I explained that if he charged me 400 pounds for something that wasn’t pointed out on the entrance board, I probably wouldn’t be able to pay him because there just isn’t a spare 400 pounds floating around right now.
Suddenly he changed his tune.
‘Mmmm. See that building? That lot are always taking pictures in this garden. Books, you know. And our parks and grounds people might need some pictures.
‘Tell you what,’ he said. ‘Come back on Friday afternoon and ask for me. I can’t promise anything but come and put your ‘ead in.’
Later, when I huffed and puffed about nanny states and curious groundsmen to my fella, I found no sympathy. Instead, he laughed like a drain.
‘Seriously? Come back on Friday after he’s just let you off a big fine? That’s the best pick-up line I’ve ever heard.’